Despite the obvious frustrations of limited running and a mid-distance exit from the Australian Grand Prix, Romain Grosjean insists that there were positives to come from the Melbourne weekend as Lotus looks to close the gap on its F1 rivals.
The Frenchman, along with new team-mate Pastor Maldonado, was already suffering from a lack of mileage before the opening round of the 2014 world championship kicked off, as Lotus' decision to skip the first pre-season test was compromised by poor reliability thereafter. Even in practice at Albert Park, the E22 refused to run cleanly, meaning that race day provided by far its sternest examination of the year to date.
However, despite being forced to park the car just after the halfway point of the 57-lap race, Grosjean maintains that it was not all doom and gloom 'down under', even if Lotus still has a lot of work to do.
“Other than the early finish, the Australian Grand Prix was positive,” he claimed, “We learned more about the car in 44 racing laps than during the whole of winter testing! The team has done so much work and each of the changes have been in the right direction. It was looking good in the race and then we had the same problem as Pastor: the MGU-K shaft. But at least there is no mystery about what happened and we are working with Renault Sport F1 to solve the problem.
Overall we are happy with the chassis, the aero balance for the changing fuel load, the driveability of the engine and the fuel economy. Of course, there is work to do with energy management and recovery and we know Renault Sport F1 is responding to this.
“On our side, we know more about the set-up and the direction we must go in order to make the car better. Braking for example was not perfect, but that is also to do with the tyres. The new tyres are really hard and their handling characteristics have changed. We are not getting the best out of them yet, but we will. There are plenty of areas for us to play with, but we now have a clear base set-up for Malaysia.”
Such was the jump forward in understanding of the curiously-styled E22 that Grosjean admits that the expectation is for more of the same each time the car runs.
“Whenever we solve a problem, we make a big step forward, whether it is with set-up, the engine or any other developments,” he explained, “We've seen this happen with other teams too, [so] we are feeling greedy at the moment. We want to keep making big progress like in Australia - not just one or two tenths, but big chunks of time and, of course, better reliability.
“We'll prioritise and work as hard as we can to achieve that. The mechanics definitely deserved a rest after Australia though. They worked long hours all weekend and still did some of the fastest pit-stops in the race. The guys were excellent and, with a work ethic like that, there is no reason why we won't get on top of this car soon and exploit the huge potential of the E22.”
Admitting that he does not enjoy the new F1, particularly with the fuel and energy saving that is a factor of the 2014 regulation changes, Grosjean accepts that next weekend's Malaysian Grand Prix could be another tough challenge.
“[Driving] is not quite as pleasant as before, to be honest,” he confessed, “There is a lot of energy recovery to deal with and optimise. You cannot drive most of the grand prix at 90 per cent as before, sometimes now it is only 30 per cent. But we just have to get used to it. When you win, you love it and, when you retire, you don't. At the moment, it feels a little frustrating as a driver but these are the rules, we will adapt and make the best of them.
“The aim now is to have a straightforward weekend at Sepang, working through our proper schedule in free practice, then carrying the benefits from that over to qualifying and the race.
“It will not be easy for anyone. We have seen some of the favourites going out or having problems and others that we were not expecting to be up there make an impression. It's a bit unpredictable at the moment and not easy to know where everyone stands. I think Mercedes is looking good, as is McLaren. Our task is to get up there and amongst them.”